Work ethic paying off early for Ellis' Hensley

By CONOR NICHOLL

cnicholl@dailynews.net

Ellis High School wrestling coach Casey Dinkel asks his squad to come in before school several times a week to run. Dinkel doesn't make it mandatory. Most Railroaders don't start on the extra work until later in their careers. Freshman Dalton Hensley began this winter.

"That's pretty impressive, because most kids wait until they get older and feel more confident, I guess," Dinkel said. "He started Day 1."

Hensley is the younger brother and only sibling of Bailey Hensley, a standout three-sport athlete and leader for Ellis.

Bailey Hensley likely is going to start for the Barton Community College softball team as a freshman this spring. Dalton Hensley's strong work ethic and perpetually positive demeanor helped him start for the Railer football team this fall.

"I don't know why there is any reason to be unhappy," Hensley said. "You are out there wrestling and having fun. It's better than sitting at home playing video games."

After a strong wrestling career in the junior ranks, Hensley has risen to No. 5 at 120 pounds in the Class 3-2-1A state rankings.

"It started a long time before me," Dinkel said of Hensley's personality. "His family, that brings a big deal into it. It's contagious. The other kids are really changing their attitudes as well, I think. It's great."

On Friday, Hensley earned a trip to Saturday night's finals at the prestigious 25-team Bob Kuhn Senior Prairie Classic at Hays High School.

Hensley, who finished first, first, first, second and second in his first five tournaments, was to face top-seeded Parker Howell of Kapaun-Mt. Carmel.

After a first-round bye, Hensley defeated Thomas More Prep-Marian sophomore Ricky Hockett by fall in 2:30.

Then, he trailed Haysville-Campus senior Mason McCracken 4-1 before he won by fall at the 4:43 mark. Hensley delivered a move called a "dresser dump" that he learned at a camp at a few years ago.

"He just continues to go, and even if he is down, I don't have doubt that he can still finish the match," Dinkel said. "That's what he did."

Hensley gives plenty of credit to his teammates and support staff. Asked what reaching the finals as a freshman meant to him, Hensley didn't talk about himself.

Instead, he brought up senior 152-pounder Landon Younger, the lone Railer left in the semifinals who competed shortly after Hensley. Younger, who went second, second, second, first and first in his first five competitions, eventually lost by fall.

"I just hope that Landon Younger can get in the finals, too," Hensley said. "That would be cool. Have two Ellis kids in the finals, that would be pretty sweet."

Former Railer state wrestling champion Riley Hunsicker and Ellis assistant football coach Jake Dreiling helped impress upon Hensley the need for extra work. Hensley and parents Kent and Shelly live out by Cedar Bluff State Park, so he normally wakes up at 5:30 a.m. His mother, a teacher, drives him to school. Normally, Hensley lifts and runs sprints or stairs for 45 minutes.

Sometimes, Hensley has some teammates or basketball players with him. Hensley said he started a couple weeks before wrestling began and comes at least three mornings a week, sometimes four or five. After practice, Hensley will ask for help for coaches -- and even assist others.

"We have a good community at Ellis," Hensley said. "Not very many bad people in Ellis, so there is nothing to be ashamed of to be from Ellis. Because we have got such a good staff at our high school, and our parents, they are really involved. Our grandparents, they are really involved, too. My sister, she was good."